April 2, 2021

This story is a guest post by @the_psychobilly, part of our HACKERS MUSEUM series.

Previous issues:

It works!

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” Arthur C. Clarke

Hey, you! Nice to meet you. Welcome to our web page. We can freely and autonomously publish articles in our HACKERS MUSEUM series, and instantly reach the whole world.

Why am I ecstatic about those common facts, would you ask?

What is at stake here wasn’t even imaginable some 30 years ago. I know the vast majority of you weren’t even born at that time and you feel this is like breathing air. Believe me when I say reaching the publishing bubble was a marathon. Clicking a link would look like a Star Trek teleportation, yet we do that a thousand times a day. Painlessly as a baby step, science-fiction took us from beneath.

We have access to a whole new dimension, a revolution.
Let’s take a second to celebrate.


Internet isn’t the web (and also why there is a Web-Controlled Coffee Consortium)

We commonly refer to the web as internet. Truth is our main usage of internet is for web. We’re forgetting that the web, a.k.a. WWW, is just an application layer built upon TCP/IP, called the HTTP protocol. TCP/IP describes how data packets are routed between hosts IPs, whereas HyperText Transfers Protocol describes how web pages are dealt with. What we call “the web” uses the latter. The Internet is the pipe where a wide array of services coexist in parallel. The Internet protocol suite literally is a whole family of services : NNTP, GOPHER, FTP, IRC, IOTP, HTCPCP-TEA, XMPP, RTSP, TELNET …

It’s funny to hear the generalist media rambling on a mysterious and shady “Darknet” where in reality, 90% of internet unknown to the general public. Well, the Hyper Text Coffee Pot Control Protocol may not be that serious after all, as it’s RFC had been published on April 1st, 2014. But still … referring to Darknet …

WWW really is the web

The web is a userland system. You can reach a distant machine typing memorable addresses (domain NAMES instead of crude IPs/ports) into a tool dedicated to “navigation” called a browser. The distant system replies with a human-readable page containing links to other pages. It’s a read/click model, no funky shell invocations. The fabulous ease of use of such model, the invention of HyperLinks allowed average joe to dive in the cyberspace en masse. How it began?


The most user-centric system in 1985 was the Macintosh Classic. For the first time in computer history, the user had been put in the center of the conception of a computer system, instead of an application field. This was a machine designed for home. In 1985, Macs could communicate locally in private, easy to set-up LANs called “AppleTalk”. They had a desktop metaphor and a mouse, inspired from the 1981 Xerox Alto OS instead of a ~HOME folder, and everything could be done with point&click. There was also this very creative guy, named Bill Atkinson, whose task was inventing applications to allow buyers to have fun with their machine. He essentially had a wildcard to invent things, not even having to report to the Apple inc. board of directors. He invented the WWW paradigm following a LSD trip. ( remember we were in the 80s, in California. ) He named that application HYPERCARD.

HYPERCARD is the metaphor of a deck of cards. You can have text, buttons, images, calendars, contacts, all linked between each other. You can click to see the next or previous card, but you can also click on a detail of a text or image to see similar cards. If you clicked the wheel of a car, you were presented with every other cards that had a wheel on them, like bicycles.

You could also search for text, click on certain words like ” wheel ” and keep on associating concepts and cards.

But this would have been useless without the ability for the user to create cards and also to add or modify links on them. You could then create your own documentations, your own collections, or semantic relationship visual databases on any subject you were into, WITHOUT EVER TOUCHING A SINGLE LINE OF CODE.

1987 computer chronicles TV show where Bill Atkinson demonstrates Hypercards

Bill Atkinson invented the ancestor of the web browser and released the first ever real-life application of hyperlinks concept: one word or images leads to a related page, or card.

Technically, the invention of HyperLinks and the WWW dates back to 1960 Ted Nelson project Xanadu, but this project only really saw a real world application in 1998.

Hypercard was based on a natural-language oriented scripting language: HyperTalk


The main limitation was the scope: everything was local. AppleTalk & AppleShare could give you access to other local computers but you had to know where was the stack you were looking for.

There wasn’t a centralized server accessible from anywhere you could dig for topics.

Hypercards wasn’t alone with this problem, the CERN had it, too.

CERN documentation problem

The CERN is a European scientific campus uniting various research field, that had been built acrosse the Franco-Swiss border. The CERN is notorious for the LCH, and is a leading particle physics research center since the early 50s.

A lot of publishing is made there, so when computers appeared, they put together a huge monolithic documentation database: the CERNDOC. However this huge franken-tree-monster was practically unusable and unavailable to scientists, because it wasn’t designed for the user.

Two individual researchers began to think of another way this should be done, without even knowing of the other. One still is famous, and the other had been forgotten. Let me introduce you to Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Caillau.

Robert Caillau

Robert Caillau

Robert Caillau is a belgian-born computer system engineer, he began to work at the CERN in 1973, developing real-time software for the proton accelerator on NORSK DATA computers, a small Norwegian company that had been the last independent computer company in Europe. After that, no other existed except from the US – “If it isn’t done in the US it doesn’t exist in computing, right?” R.Caillau


He eventually had been discharged from the project and went involved in the CERN active documentation project. We were int the late 80s and he knew about HYPERCARD. CERNDOC was a hierarchical, tree structured, system and wasn’t particularly fit for transverse associations. You had to navigate the whole tree to find a branch. He thought hyperlinks were much more fit to this task, but he didn’t knew about internet.

Tim Berners-Lee

Tim Berners-Lee

Tim Berners-Lee

Tim Berners-Lee is a british physicist. He landed at the CERN in the early 80s as an independant contractor to develop an interconnecting network for the different labs and the CERNDOC system called ENQUIRE

ENQUIRE runned inside a text-only shell, used the cards metaphor to describe units of documentation, just like HYPERCARDS, but without the ease of use nor the GUI. He came back to the CERN in 1984 as a fellow researcher. In 1989, the CERN was the largest European node on the internet, he saw an opportunity to make the idea of an internet-based documentation system a reality.

Les grands esprits se rencontrent.

Mike Sendall was following Robert Caillau and Tim Berners-Lee project side by side as a manager, one day he called out both: “Look, you guys know what you are doing. Why don’t you sit down and talk to each other?”

“So then we wrote a common proposal to get resources and management attention, and to make it an interdivisional project — we were in two different divisions, and a CERN division is about two to three hundred people — and that project proposal was called World Wide Web.” Robert Caillau

the WWW proposal and the first website ever.

Tim Berners-Lee published the final web proposal in may 1990 and began to write the first web browser, called “WorldWideWeb” on his NexT Computer. He invented the full HTTP stack, URLs, and formalized HTML based on SGML. He then put the first web page ever on the internet. That page still lives: http://info.cern.ch/

Tim Berners-Lee NexT workstation and web server @ CERN

The WorldWideWeb Browser screenshot

The famous Horribles Cernettes (history of the first picture on the web)

The first ever picture published on the internet is … GIRRRRLZ! (would you have guessed?).
In 1992 there was a doo-wap girls band at the CERN: les horribles Cernettes that got fame because of a mock song called “collider” about the blues of a proton collider scientist wife.

You never spend your nights with me
And you don’t go out with other girls either
You only love your collider
Les Horribles Cernettes

Tim was a fan, so he published a photo of the band on the CERN website. This picture is now a piece of the web history. The entire world could see they weren’t horrible at all.

Les Horribles Cernettes – Original photo.

Last word.

WOW!, you reached the end, thank you for being here. You now know how our interwebs had been created (this is NOT for doges and longcat ).

This fabulous playground had been financed by public funds and then given to us for free. It is public patrimony and we should always be vigilant that it will stay a neutral public service. This is not so obvious. Powerful corporate players are always trying to make profits from public goods.

Here is a particularly preoccupying matter, and you should care: App Stores. App Stores are a corporate push to replace the free, open web. Are you surprised? Sounds an abusive statement? Well, think about this twice:

  • You have to use a platform publisher dependent ecosystem to compile apps.
  • Your app can be removed by the publisher at will, no valid justification needed.
  • You are constantly encouraged or forced use the app instead of the web.
  • Your website revenues are forcibly shared with the publisher.
  • Your app platform is fragmenting your content audience.
  • A captive app store is of no real use when every website can be an instant-app with free, open technology like HTML5. That is why platforms publishers are constantly pushing shiny proprietary techs while driving the majority of the development to segment the market. This logically ends with a more restrictive licensing when every concurrent technology dies.

You are the market. FIGHT.TO.KEEP.A.FREE.AND.OPEN.WEB, explain this issue around you. Thank you.

The Web: This is for everyone.